Morning Report: Government still shut down 1/22/18

Vital Statistics:

Last Change
S&P Futures 2811.5 0.5
Eurostoxx Index 401.9 1.0
Oil (WTI) 63.3 -0.1
US dollar index 84.4 -0.1
10 Year Govt Bond Yield 2.65%
Current Coupon Fannie Mae TBA 103.591
Current Coupon Ginnie Mae TBA 103.688
30 Year Fixed Rate Mortgage 4.03

Stocks are flat as the government shutdown goes into a third day. Bonds and MBS are flat.

For all of the sturm and drang about the government shutdown, the markets don’t care. Hopefully people who needed tax transcripts took care of business early.

Bond yields blew through support last Friday, and the Ginnie Mae TBAs are in a bit of a transition. The higher coupon TBAs hadn’t really begun trading with any sort of volume, which made it hard to get note rates above 5 1/8%. Since bonds are pretty much unchanged this morning we should see those note rates open up (hopefully) today.

Note some bond bears see the early part of the year as the time to sell bonds. This is similar to the “sell in May and go away” advice that stock investors sometimes heed. It turns out that since 1998, bond yields have increased ever so slightly in the first 5 months of the year, and have fallen pretty dramatically in the final 7 months. Is there any sort of economic explanation? No. Which means it is just a coincidence.

The upcoming week won’t have much in the way of market-moving data except for Friday, which will have durable goods and GDP. Fed-speak is also minimal ahead of the FOMC meeting next week. The markets are predicting nothing is going to happen at the Jan meeting. We will get some non-market moving housing data with new home sales, existing home sales, and the FHFA House Price Index. We are in the heart of earnings season, and that will dictate stock price movement.

The World Economic Forum begins this week in Davos, which means we will get to see a lot of economists get interviewed in the snow on CNBC and Bloomberg TV. Don’t expect to hear anything market-moving. The global economy is doing just fine at the moment, although I am sure bigwigs at the IMF, World Bank, and various Central Banks will find something to fret about. They should probably worry more about their economic forecasts. The Bank of England was dead-set against Brexit, and thought that leaving the EU would crash the economy. Their forecasts missed the mark by a country mile. As a general rule, investors should leave their political preferences at the door when it comes to making investment decisions.  Combining political ideology with economic / market forecasting is inevitably a recipe for disaster.

Economic activity continued to exhibit strength in December, according to the Chicago Fed National Activity Index. Production-related indicators (sales, orders, inventory) improved in December, while employment indicators were more or less flat compared to November.

The post-crisis financial regulatory environment has created a shortage of appraisers. While this has largely affected mortgage lending, banks are now using Broker Price Opinions (BPOs) for transactions that involve rental properties. These used to be called “drive-by” appraisals, as the analyst would drive past the property and look at it without entering. Nowadays, these appraisals are outsourced to India, where analysts basically come up with a valuation using Google Earth and comps. Even Fannie Mae used BPOs for a transaction last year. The ratings agencies will haircut the BPO valuation by 10% or so when doing a collateral evaluation.

One of the telltale signs at the peak of a market bubble, according to Charles Kindleberger in his book Manias, Panics, and Crashes is the emergence of swindles. The largest private bank in China has turned out to be a fraud. China has a massive real estate bubble on its hands, and it will burst at some point (this year, next decade, who knows?) However, once it bursts, the economic playbook says that China will export deflation the way Japan did in the 90s, which means lower interest rates and lower inflation overall.

Speaking of bubbles, the liberal Brookings Institute thinks that 40% of student loans from the 2004 cohort could default. This isn’t chump change, either: a total of $1.4 trillion in student loan debt is outstanding. This is another reason why the Fed is so interested in creating inflation (despite what they say about it). Inflation is a debtor’s best friend, as wages rise with inflation, but fixed rate debt stays the same, which reduces the drag on spending and economic growth over time. Until that happens, the first time homebuyer will probably continue to rent, at least at the margin.

Home prices increased 7% in 2017, according to Redfin. As usual, inventory remains the biggest problem in the real estate market.

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